A story about waiting, and cold, and above all, blue petunias.
The past couple of days have been challenging, to put it mildly. To pass the time, I wrote a story in my head, and today, thumped it out on a keyboard. It’s what you do (or perhaps just what I do) when stuck in a hospital with very shaky Internet access and a tablet with a keyboard.
Not specifically returning to the short story challenge per se, but it certainly helped to both pass time and calm my nerves during a difficult time. Anyway, on with…
The Blue Petunias
The blue petunias sat in the vase. A thin trickle of condensation formed on the outside of the vase. Terry watched the sliver of fluid slowly make its way down the outside of the vase as he sat and waited. It pooled slowly at the base of the vase, lightly staining the soft woven doily the vase sat upon.
How long had it been? Four hours? Five? After a while you give up caring, or staring at your watch, or digging out your phone to see if there are any messages even though you know you haven’t felt it vibraing in your hip pocket. After a while, the only thing that tells you about the passing of time is the rising of the sun and the stiffness in your legs from sitting still for too long in the cold morning air.
Terry didn’t much care for flowers, although even he could appreciate that the vase itself was a thing of beauty. Crystal cut and thin, with just the right amount of water to both prop up the petunias and provide them with water. As the sun had come up, its early rays had split through the glass of the vase, casting an eery green light through the stems of the petunias into the room beyond. The vase was, Terry thought, proper quality. Not quality you buy out of a catalog or from some online store “quality”, sold with fake monogrammes but shipped in polystyrene boxes, but the kind of quality that didn’t need to shout about its quality and take pride in its tiny maker’s mark instead.
Terry had watched, and waited, and intermittently scratched himself when he was itchy. The scar on his left shoulder always itched when it was too cold, and waiting around in the early dawn was a quick and simple way to make his shoulder chilly. Terry didn’t complain, though. It wasn’t his style. Mostly, he just waited. Terry was hungry, and he was tired, and he seriously wanted his morning coffee, not to mention a healthy serving of crispy bacon and freshly fried eggs. Maybe even some
But not yet. Not yet. It would all have to wait.
His gaze wandered back to the petunias. He had thought that as the sun rose, it would become clearer to him if they were genuine flowers, or that strange plastic and fabric kind. For some time he’d argued in his head one way or the other as he had waited. Nobody would put fake flowers in real water, would they, one side of his head would say, but then his thoughts would counter with the idea that it’s not as though a plastic flower would be harmed in any way by getting wet, and anyway, that would be the ideal way to make sure people thought they were real.
The rising light levels did nothing to quell his inner curiosity, however. Through the window glass they were distinct enough that he could tell what they were in form, but not in specific detail.
A shrill electric whine from up the road indicated to Terry that the local milkman must be on his way, his float wobbling its way down the uneven road that the council kept saying was “top priority” to fix and had done for seven years now. The inclusion of a speed bump halfway down had done little to help matters, although it did mean that Terry could pick exactly when the milkman had hit half way from the crashing sounds of all those milk bottles. Terry could never quite understand how the bottles didn’t break, but they never did.
Number 63 didn’t get a milk delivery, which meant that the float zoomed right past, all the way down to number 77. Even from this distance, this early in the morning sound traveled well through the air, so much so that Terry could hear the milkman whistling away as he dropped off his pints and his yoghurts.
Every house used to get milk delivered, Terry thought. Back when he was a boy, he’d get up in the morning and head downstairs, and one of his chores was to open the front door and get the milk before the local birds pecked the lids off, or tipped the milk over doing so. But now, almost everyone went down to the supermarket to buy those huge plastic jugs of milk, rather than a good old fashioned pint, fresh from the dairy. Only the elderly seemed to stick to the old ways, he mused.
Waiting. Terry was OK with waiting for the most part, because he’d ensured he’d dressed correctly.
Black jacket, jumper, t-shirt and singlet on top, jeans and solid socks under thin boots, and he could stand and wait forever if needs be. Years of parades had given him the discipline needed for patience, not to mention an appreciation of the quiet times. The not-so-quiet times were, on reflection, the times that Terry liked the least.
Suddenly, a rush of movement through the window. A flash of blue cloth, probably a jacket of a man walking by, and Terry pulled the trigger. The vase shattered at the impact, and the figure in the suit dropped almost instantly, like a marionette with its strings severed. The petunias fluttered down to the floor, and as they did, Terry spotted a tag affixed to their plastic stems.
Good, Terry thought. I thought so. Now, on to my coffee.